In light of an increasingly difficult budget planning process, Pleasantville school board members said they are concerned about a likely state mandate that could begin in 2014.
Preliminary information about a computer-based testing pilot was recently released by New York State, district Technology Director Drew Marino shared during the annual departmental update January 22.
"We are not sure how much it will cost, how to do it or how it will be available," he said.
Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter said school districts have been asked to complete "cumbersome" surveys about how students could complete Regents exams through electronic devices.
"We are asking the state to make it an easier survey to complete," she said. "We have no clue what this model will look like that the state will roll out."
Marino's colleague Sam Aidala added the district would likely look into purchasing or using laptops for such a mandate, as it could be more costly to buy separate keyboards for tablets. Tablets, he added, also generally have smaller screens, while the state plans to impose a screen size minimum.
In a May 2012 letter to state school superintendents, New York State Department of Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. explained the switch "will place New York at the forefront of innovative, 21st-century assessment design and delivery."
He noted, "As we increase our efforts around technology-enhanced learning, thereby allowing greater access by more students to rigorous, innovative learning opportunities, we must also increase our efforts around how we assess our students in ways that fully leverage today's technology."
In reality, Pleasantville Board of Education Vice President Shane McGaffey said, "But really it's for the state to save money."
Board Member Louis Conte also said the reasoning did not add up.
"I see kids in libraries; they know how to use technology that would make my head spin," he said. "This is nuts, to be clear."
In a NYSED memo distributed to districts this January, school officials were alerted of the immediacy surrounding the mandate.
"There are only two budget cycles prior to the 2014-15 school year," the letter reads. "Therefore, districts and schools planning to make CBT and other educational technology investments through the annual budget cycle have two opportunities remaining: winter 2013 while preparing the 2013-14 school year budget; and winter 2014 while preparing the 2014-15 school year budget."
Trustee Emily Rubin Persons suggested the district look into possible grant opportunities to help fund the equipment needed to fulfill the requirements.
Aidala and Marino said initial estimates show the mandate could cost the district approximately $500,000 upfront—from the purchase of equipment to upgrading to the required external Internet connection speeds.
"Given limited fiscal resources and best professional practices, the most cost-effective option may be to purchase dual-use devices, which can be used for both CBT and other general classroom purposes," NYSED suggested in the January memo.
Fox-Alter said she thinks the state is moving too fast on the proposal.
"There are so many things unknown," she said, but noted, "It's unavoidable in my opinion."
The board will continue to discuss the 2013-14 preliminary budget at tonight's 7:30 p.m. meeting.
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